By Erika Madden | Featured Contributor
Does responding to negative blog comments scare you? Anger you? Give you an itchy delete button?
How do you go about conducting yourself with class toward people who have made it abundantly clear that they’re unhappy with you…and aren’t afraid to share it with the world?
Being criticized on your blog is embarrassing, but it doesn’t spell disaster — IF you handle it the right way. These simple tips will help you look poised and professional when dealing with disgruntled customers or readers (so you can protect your reputation, and yes, even win adoring fans):
1. Acknowledge their perspective
Try prefacing your response with “I hear you,” “I see what you’re saying,” or, “I can understand where you’re coming from.” This is a fast way to reduce conflict, yet still leave room for you to stand by your opinions or experiences.
People generally don’t need your agreement to be satisfied; they just want to know they’ve been heard — and that you’re open to listening to them.
2. Ask a question
If you’re not sure how to respond without sounding defensive, arrogant, or argumentative, asking a question is a great choice to make instead.
If someone complains about a function with your website, you can ask, “Could you tell me what computer and browser you’re using so I can look into it?” If they’re unhappy with your opinion on a certain subject, you can say, “What has been your experience?”
This approach makes you look interested in understanding the people in your space, which in turn helps them (or those observing the conversation) respect and trust you.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has (accurately) said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” If we take time to b-r-e-a-t-h-e before we react, we can oftentimes admit that there’s some level of truth to the person’s comment.
(This is usually more obvious after you’ve made yourself a nice dinner, watched a hilarious movie, and had a glass of wine.)
Even if you’re an expert in your field, you’re not always going to do things the right way. It doesn’t diminish your reputation if you can swallow your pride and proclaim your agreement. “You know, I completely agree with you. I should make the blog text bigger; size 6 point font IS difficult to read.”
4. Use a smiley face
As we get older and listen to stodgy business people proclaim what they think is “professional” or not on the web, we hear things like, “Don’t use emoticons, they make you look immature.”
While some people can certainly overdo it, this advice is not true across the board. There are many cases where we NEED indications of emotion on the page, otherwise what we type can come across as blunt, snobby, or even angry.
There’s a brilliant Chinese proverb that says, “A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.” Offer your customers a literal 🙂 here or there when you’re talking via text. It will drastically improve how you are perceived, which in turn will lead to better (and nicer) discussions.
If someone has had a negative experience with you or your products/services, don’t make excuses. Don’t blame it on something — or someone– else. And don’t ever, and I mean ever, accuse THEM of being at fault. (Yes, even if they did somewhat contribute to the problem.)
Just say you’re sorry, and move the conversation to a private space. “I’m so sorry this happened, Christie. It is unacceptable. I’d love to talk with you further at firstname.lastname@example.org and make it right.”
(But remember: this only works if you then actually make it right!)
And a quick parting note:
Despite your best intentions, there WILL be times when you get a comment that can’t be handled effectively using any of the above techniques.
Whether it’s a random troll who drops in to say something sexually suggestive or it’s a client/reader who gets verbally abusive (they resort to name-calling, deliver vicious ad hominem attacks, etc.), you need to be prepared with a different response.
My thoughts on this?
There are times when being delightful does mean deletion.
I do not ever advocate for anyone to leave comments up on their blog that are destructive or degrading — to you OR to other commenters. It not only encourages people to continue to behave badly without consequence, it also can lead to a chilling effect where people are hesitant to comment at all for fear that they’ll be the next target.
In those situations, the best thing you can do for your community is to get the poisonous comments OFF your blog.
(Many businesses find it helpful to have a clear comment policy outlined somewhere on their website to which they can refer people when situations like that arise.)
Now I’d love to hear from you. How do you (out)delight the detractors? Have you found a response that works well?
Erika Madden is the irresistible super geek behind Olyvia, a digital marketing, reputation, and etiquette consulting company that helps women be delightful online. Between herding three feisty young children, running to the store for more Starbucks K-cups, and obsessively tweaking her website, she considers her success to be just short of miraculous.